Lakewood’s Biggest Fan: Save Our Schools-NJ Supports the Tyranny of the Majority

Occasionally I check Save Our Schools-NJ’s Facebook page to keep tabs on the anti-choice/accountability crowd. Topping the newsfeed yesterday was an indignant post about the approval of five new charter school applications. Typical pablum, right? Charter schools cost money and so they are bad.  Charter schools don’t have to hire NJEA members (unless the teachers choose to unionize) and so they are bad. Charter schools threaten the traditional school monopoly because, among the best ones, student outcomes are better, and so they are bad. The post ends with an reference to an item at the top of SOS-NJ’s agenda:

We keep repeating that NJ needs charter school reform. Local communities MUST have a say in charter school approval. We look forward to a more thoughtful, inclusive process when the next Governor takes office in January.

So let’s go there. What would happen if  “local communities” had a vote on “charter school approval”? And, for an example, let’s use one of those new charter schools, Ocean County Charter School in Lakewood, NJ.

Regular readers of this blog know about Lakewood, the rapidly-growing city in South Jersey where the local school district, which serves about 6,000 poor Latino and Black students, is broke, dysfunctional, and under-performing. To get a sense of the fiscal mess, the state just gave the district an $8.5 million bail-out to help plug a $15 million budget gap caused by the district spending somewhere about 40 percent of its annual operating budget on the 30,000 ultra-Orthodox children who attend the city’s 120 private Jewish day schools. There are two big-ticket items. One is the $15 million per year spent on gender-specific/yeshiva-specific buses. (District officials tried to get yeshiva owners to accept a curtain separating boys and girls but got turned down.) The other is the $1.8 million per month in tuition for sending 199 ultra-Orthodox kids with special needs to attend the School for Children with Hidden Intelligence, an ultra-orthodox yeshiva thinly disguised as a non-sectarian special education school. (To be fair, there is one Latino child enrolled. Also of note: the founder and Director of SCHI, Osher Eisemann, was charged this year with stealing and laundering more than $600,000 in public funds, no doubt siphoned from district payments. A recent audit also found that SCHI overcharged Lakewood and other school districts by more than $340,000 in one year.)

In addition to these peculiar practices, Lakewood has a bizarre system of special education placement: the school board, mostly Haredim, allows ultra-Orthodox parents to bypass placement processes and have the district pay for their kids (who may or may not have special needs) to attend other yeshivas. For more on this, see here.

Is this system satisfactory to the majority? You betcha. Is this system satisfactory to the  Latino and Black families who send their kids to the struggling traditional school district? Not so much. But that’s the system that SOS-NJ lobbies for: one of the tyranny of the majority. Think about it. What would happen if the “local community” in Lakewood had a vote on Ocean County Charter School? What if the majority had the right to vote down the approval of an alternative public school that offered an escape hatch to minority children trapped in a traditional school where 93% of high school students fail the state math test and not a single high school student achieved 1550 last year on the three-part SAT, a benchmark for college and career readiness?

I don’t need to tell you the inevitable results of that vote by the “local community.”

Interestingly, the comments attached to the post (I’ve removed the names) focus largely on Lakewood. Here’s a sampling. 

What is happening in Lakewood is a travesty!! All of us should be having marches there before we go to D.C. I am having difficulty understanding how a religious sect can take over an entire town!!

The town planning boards need to change the variances so they cant open! Deny any building and then they leave

The Irony is because a certain group has taken all the money to bus their children to the over 49 schools in the town. And the State allows segregation – the Hasidic culture does not allow boys and girls on the same bus.

Way more than 49. It is over 100. Some say as many as 130 private schools.

It’s a crime! I’m a true believer in local community public schools. The community, any community, any town, needs to support their local public school for it to be successful and a place where children love! We cannot support two separate school systems! Stop the madness!!!

In other words, these followers of SOS-NJ take umbrage at the tyranny of the majority, an appropriate description of Lakewood’s educational environment.  But they illogically support SOS-NJ’s position (aligned with its allies NJEA and Education Law Center) that the majority should be empowered to decide whether or not underserved and underrepresented minority schoolchildren have equal rights to a quality education.

You see? It doesn’t work. Just look at Lakewood.

What do you think?


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